During the night of 15 October 1987, southern England was hit by what has become known as the Great Storm. The damage caused by the hurricane-force winds that evening was extensive and spectacular. Eighteen people were killed and an estimated 15 million trees felled, including six of the historic oak trees in Sevenoaks. Less well known is the fact that amid the destruction a large number of exotic farm animals took advantage of storm-damaged fences to escape into the wild.
Among these was a group of plucky wild boar that fled into nearby woods from a now-defunct boar farm near Tenterden in Kent. A quarter of a century later, there is a thriving population in the woods and farmland around the border of Kent and East Sussex.
According to the British Wild Boar Organisation, a series of escapes from other boar farms has led to populations establishing themselves in other areas. During the 1990s, for example, animals escaped from farms in Dorset and the Wye Valley, and in 2007 from holdings in Devon.
It is thought that the last of Britain's original wild boar were dispatched by King James I in the early 17th century. But with breeding populations now also established in the Forest of Dean and regular sightings in Wales, Yorkshire and Scotland, it's clear that wild boar are back and they're here to stay.
The wild boar isn't the only species to make a comeback after being declared extinct on these shores. In the past decade alone, the European beaver has been reintroduced to the wild at Knapdale Forest in Scotland, and the world's heaviest flying bird, the great bustard, has begun nesting again on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Both were hunted to extinction, the beavers by the 17th century and great bustards by 1832.
Since their return in 2004, the birds have begun breeding again--the first three native British chicks hatched in 2009--and are often seen flying over the Somerset Levels. According to the Great Bustard Group, a charity backed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that is leading the reintroduction scheme, other areas of the UK, notably East Anglia, are likely to be selected for future releases once the population in Wiltshire has reached a sustainable level.
Species-reintroduction schemes create a lot of public interest, and the Knapdale beavers are already a tourist attraction. There's a dedicated visitor centre and walk along the shores of Dubh Loch and Loch Coille-Bharr in Argyll, where the three families of beavers were released into the forest in May 2009, having been brought over from Norway.
Conservationists are now in the middle of a five-year trial to observe the beavers' impact on an environment that supports thriving populations of otter, pine marten, roe deer, badger and wildcat. Early research reveals that the beavers spend most of their time in the water when not resting in their lodges on the water's edge. Unlike otters, they don't eat fish, preferring a diet of grass, leaves and bark from rowan and willow tree.
When the trial finishes in 2014, scientists will have a thorough overview of the animals' behaviour and life cycle, and a measure of their overall impact on the environment of Knapdale Forest. The results of the trial will determine whether the reintroduction programme expands to other areas of Scotland.
THE WAITING GAME
As with so many regions of Scotland, Knapdale Forest offers photographers a rich array of wildlife subject matter. The beavers may have given Knapdale and the rest of Argyll greater public attention, but they remain elusive and difficult to see, being most active at dawn and only briefly venturing out of the water.
Overhead, one of Britain's largest bird species may prove to be more visible. The white-tailed eagle, also known as the sea eagle, is now firmly established along the wild, rugged coast and islands of western Scotland. …